It has been one year since I became Prime Minister and I greet you this evening in a spirit of thanksgiving and with a renewed commitment to service.I give thanks for God’s enabling Grace throughout this year of challenges, changes for the better and the sowing of seeds for future reaping.
I also thank you, the Jamaican people, for your support, encouragement and inspiration.
I never cease to be motivated by your courage, strength and unquenchable spirit.
This evening I come before you as your servant-leader, to give account of my stewardship.
One year ago, taking a stand for justice, I pledged to advance human rights and individual liberty.
The Justice System Reform Programme now underway is central to the fulfillment of that pledge. It is the most comprehensive review and overhaul of the justice system ever undertaken in our country.
Let me give you one clear indication of commitment. Over the past 22 years, we spent $455 million dollars on capital development within the justice system. Last year alone, 436 million dollars was allocated for this purpose.
In addition, some 1.35 billion dollars has been allocated to rehabilitate and build court houses, starting with those in Santa Cruz and Port Antonio, now under construction.
To ensure a swifter, more efficient administration of justice, our court systems and procedures are being modernized.
Work continues on developing a Victims Charter so that the victims of crime can be compensated in some way for their suffering.
This leads me to another important concern. During the year, I continued to appeal to the nation, from the depths of my heart, to restore family values and protect our children.
I have instructed the law officers to ensure that legislation concerning these matters be presented to Parliament in short order.
We will be relentless in our efforts to restore family values and make sure that our children, women, men, youth, senior citizens and persons who are physically and mentally challenged enjoy the rights and get the respect they deserve.
On the burning issue of crime and security, let me say this: We have not reached where we want to be and need to be as a country, but some progress was made in tackling crime during the year.
Operation Kingfish has established a permanent presence in Western Jamaica and we have expanded the operations of other crime fighting units in that part of the island.
Reflecting on the work of our security forces, I salute them this evening. I give the assurance that efforts to provide them with better equipment, strengthen their intelligence gathering capabilities and improve the general working environment will continue.
Fellow Jamaicans, I ask you to continue assisting and supporting the security forces in the fight against crime.
In keeping my pledge to balance people’s lives as we balance the books, we have paid special attention to protecting the weak and vulnerable.
Starting with health, I can report that over 1.8 billion dollars was spent to improve the country’s health infrastructure.
Let me give a quick profile of improvements to benefits for over 500 thousand Jamaicans: Renovation and construction work at the Annotto Bay, Mandeville, Black
River, Falmonth and Cornwall Regional hospitals, among others;
Acquisition of vital diagnostic and other medical equipment;
Forty-eight new ambulances joining the fleet;
Two Hundred and Eighty Four Thousand (284,000) persons now enrolledunder the National Health Fund, filling some 2.4 million prescriptions;
Two Hundred and Thirty Thousand (230,000) persons now registered beneficiaries under the PATH programme, receiving benefits of over 215 million dollars;
Increase of school attendance and use of preventative health care services because of PATH;
Forty per cent increase of health care visits for children 0-6 years last year.
Stronger and healthier children is our goal. We are on the way to achieving that objective.
Let us consider some other ways in which we have been balancing people’s lives.
NIS pensioners received a 66 per cent increase in benefits during the year and the National Minimum Wage was increased by 14 percent.
2,754 housing solutions for sugar workers.
I shared the joy of inner city residents who were among the 486 beneficiaries receiving keys to their own homes under the government’s Inner-city Housing Programme.
Very shortly, another 600 residents and their families will be enjoying a similar experience. Overall, 5,000 such houses for 5,000 families will be built in various communities.
I turn now to Education.
As the passport to the future, education continued to take centre stage.
During the year, three thousand six hundred and ninety-five new school places were provided and we spent over one billion dollars on critical repairs to 276 schools.
Three hundred more schools are targeted in the next phase of repairs. 82 repair contracts have already been awarded.
I believe in providing the best facilities possible for our students and teachers.
We are spending 2.9 billion dollars to provide thirteen thousand additional spaces, building eight new schools and expanding and upgrading of twenty-three schools.
A record 120,000 units of furniture were delivered to schools and contracts totaling half a billion dollars have been awarded to local manufacturers to ensure a continuous supply of quality furniture for our teachers and students.
We continue the focus on giving our children the best possible start in their educational life. The very successful pilot nutrition programme for early childhood students, implemented during the year, will be expanded in the new budget year.
Of course, to be sustainable, this balancing of people’s lives must rest on three important features: a growing economy, improved infrastructure and expanded opportunities for business. How are we progressing?
In agriculture, one of the critical pillars of the economy, production grew by 24 per cent last year.
Over 800 farm families benefited under the national irrigation development programme in Hounslow and Pedro Plains in St Elizabeth and Seven Rivers in St James.
2000 farmers received assistance under the Agricultural Support Services Programme.
During the year, there was a record number of investment projects. The result? Unprecedented levels of construction activities in resort developments, highways, roads, airports, seaports, housing and the bauxite-alumina industry!
Investment was also strong in information, communication and technology.
Tourism had a 17 per cent growth in visitor arrivals and 18 per cent in cruise ship passengers. For the first time, we welcomed 3 million visitors in a single year.
We are on target to add another 15,000 rooms over the next five years.
All of these developments mean additional jobs in construction and long term operations. They mean new opportunities for manufacturers, business people, transport operators, farmers and people who supply goods and services.
The economic indicators have also been positive.
Inflation was 5.8 per cent, the lowest in decades. Interest rates declined not once, not twice, but four times in the past year, bringing interest rates to its lowest level in over 20 years.
Our net international reserves at the end of 2006 stood at 2.4 billion U.S. dollars.
We have broadened the opportunities for small entrepreneurs with the creation of the one billion dollar loan programme financed from the National Insurance Fund. To date, 850 million dollars have been committed for disbursement through participating lending institutions
Important infrastructure improvements have taken place.
Those who have traveled on the completed road from Ocho Rios to Falmouth can testify that we now have a first class highway. Work continues on the Ocho Rios to Port Antonio as well as the Falmouth to Montego Bay sections of the North Coast Highway.
But, we are not only focused on building highways.
Over 3.5 billion dollars is being spent on road repairs which affect communities, housing schemes and farm roads.
Contracts for the construction of over 20 bridges were signed during the course of the year to improve transportation and communication, especially for rural citizens.
Thousands of Jamaicans have been provided with piped water by the Rural Water Supply Company. The Cotterwood Water Supply System in St Elizabeth and the Mango Valley Water Supply System in St Mary are but two examples. In bringing our international gateways to first world standards, some 250 Million U.S. dollars have been spent on airport improvement.
Looking outside Jamaica, during the year, I visited several countries and met with both government and private sector leaders.
We cannot afford to live in isolation from the rest of the global community. Indeed, for every enlightened nation, this is the era of co-operation and I have continued to build on the foundation of regional and international relationships established by my predecessors.
Our country has made significant gains from greater economic cooperation and development agreements cemented because of these visits. I have just shared with you some of the highlights of my first year in office. It is not a comprehensive list of achievements, nor does it take into account some of the biggest challenges, some of them, unexpected, that we have faced and continue to face.
There are many other matters that will be discussed and concluded in my new year of service which begins tomorrow.
The challenge of providing training opportunities and gainful employment for our young people will be one such issue to be discussed and addressed.
We have many more rivers to cross and mountains to climb. However, I am confident that with unity and cooperation we can make Jamaica a better place for all.
In the meantime, let us be proud of the progress we have made and every achievement, small or large, along the way. We must be inspired and encouraged by our victories.
Last Sunday, we observed the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Transatlantic Trade in Africans, borne out of the struggles of our ancestors and others who supported the cause.
Our ancestors paid a great price for our existence today, as proud, independent Jamaicans. They left us the opportunity to create what they never enjoyed — a society in which we can be prosperous and free. We have a responsibility to honour this legacy.
Fellow Jamaicans, if we are true to our rich heritage, the sacrifices we make today will lead to a brighter, peaceful and more prosperous Jamaica.
Be assured that there is a steady hand, guided by God, steering this ship; a heart full of love for the people; a strong determination to work for this country’s productivity and prosperity and very importantly, a willingness to listen to and learn from those who want to see Jamaica victorious.
As a nation we are committed to becoming “Out of many, one people”. The “many”, of varying interests and persuasions, can only become “one people” when we develop a common vision and a set of objectives that bind us together in love and hope for this nation.
I say to you again tonight as I did a year ago, that ‘together we aspire, together we can make it happen’. We are a great people and under God, are destined to achieve greatness.
Good night and may God continue to richly bless and keep you, and shine his face always upon Jamaica, land we all so dearly love.

JIS Social